Face Time with "A Cameo Creation"

Ah, cameo art. Hand-painted on ivory, cameo portraits from the Victorian era and earlier can run in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars...

Um, these are not those.

But these little prints ARE a nice, period-influenced approximation of the look and feel. And ranging from around $.99 each at thrift stores, to under ten bucks at many antique malls, these little cameo portraits can be really effective in a Victorian, cottage or Paris Apartment decorating styles.

One company that produced this style of art was called Turner (see upper central cameo). And the popular label you’ll see on the backs of many of these prints reads “A Cameo Creation.” Some quick internet research indicates they were produced from the 1940s through the 1960s, and I suspect that the fact this spanned a twenty-some year period is reflected in the way some of them are framed in gilded wood surrounded by a velvet (usually burgundy in color) while others, probably later pieces, are framed in elaborate gold plastic.

The images themselves were well-known portraits of late 18th century and 19th century nobility, and many are marked as such on the back. For instance, meet Lady Grosvenor. Others include Mmc. Lambert de Morigney by Nicholas Largellier, Miss Conyngham, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and Comtesse Lousia Cercle by FX Winterhalter.

I understand from chatting with a vendor once that she remembered these items originally being sold in the home decor sections of major department stores-- so, say, in our Pittsburgh area, all the Kauffmann’s department stores probably would have carried them.

And collecting them today can be surprisingly easy. I’ve seen them come into the thrift stores a couple of times a year (normally en masse, because they do look good in groups on a wall). And I’ve found them in flea markets and antique stores. The antique stores occasionally get carried away with the price, so it’s smart to know the maximum that you want to pay and stick to that.

Last thing I wanted to show you: this one is marked with an old price tag from Strauss-Hirshbergs department store. $2.99. Considering I paid about $0.99 for this little lady many, many years later, I’d say I got a pretty good deal!

I hope you all will come face-to-face with great deals yourselves! See you next week.

A Few Small Repairs

To mix things up a little, this week I thought I’d share the projects I’m about to attack for early 2007. You know the sorts of things-- the ones that nag at you… just a little… every time you look at a particular area of your home.

If they had eyebrows, these projects, they’d arch one at you, as if to say, “So we’re finally ready to get around to ME, are we?”

These are those projects. The projects that Guilt.

The plate rail
The arrangement on my kitchen wall grew organically, largely because when I began decorating, I had absolutely no idea I was powerless to resist a good, cheap Victorian whiteware plate. The little shelves up there helped, and while I’m not a stickler for things actually matching, I’ve grown to believe the unmatching shelves in this case draw attention AWAY from the plates, to the fact that the shelves don’t, well, match.

So this will be the solution. I hope. A couple of long plate rail shelves from Michaels. I’m going to add this William Morris-style trim to them, and stain them in Minwax Provincial, to match my lower cabinets.

And to help with this project, I got a stud finder for Christmas and everything. (Add appropriate off-color joke of your choice here.)

Floor border
Note, the lack-of. And why? Well, there WAS one, all right. But it was black and rubbery and peeling itself off of the wallboard. The irony of this is it that it was also coated with tubs of horrible sticky glue that, while apparently not enough to adhere it to the wall any longer, it was PRECISELY enough to attach itself firmly to my leg or sock every time I did dishes. So after one final dramatic sockless incident, I decided we had to part ways, the rubber floor border and I. But I do admire it for its spunk. On its way out, it did manage to stick to the floor, me, the stove, me, the garbage bag, me, and probably escaped long enough to bond with a few garbage collectors for good measure. Poor dears.

My plan for this area now is to remove the remaining goo, and stain this baby to match the rest of the kitchen so it will be subtle, discreet. Then add a small finishing bit of trim to the bottom. Plain wood is preferable to black rubber and socklessness any day, don’t ya think?

The House of Usher quality in my diningroom
These cracks bother me. A lot. They occurred when the pillars of my 100+ year old porch decided that after all those years, it might be so much NICER to move just a little bit closer to next door.

My new porch pillars so far are, thankfully, well-behaved and enjoy their view-as is. So I plan to prevent further ominous wall crumbling by spackling and then painting the room a nice antiquey cream. (If anyone has a nice shade of antiquey cream paint they’ve used and can recommend, I’d be glad to hear of it.)

Globe lampshade
I bought this lampshade at “Junk For Joy” in Jeannette, PA, knowing it needed a little flower-fixin’ but figuring it had potential since the glass itself was in good shape. This is not an emergency. But if I do not do it soon, it won’t get done. I don’t even imagine it will take long. So this has made the list.

Mirror refurbishment? Gesso! (That’s what I’ve been told to use to fill in the missing bits, anyway: gesso.) This was another “Junk for Joy” find-- I think it was $3-- and I’d like to see how far I can get it from being shabby to becoming chic. If it works out, I may put it in my entryway. Time will tell.

Two paintings
I have two “inside joke” paintings I plan to paint for two different friends. What I may lack in artistic skill, I hope to make up for in the element of surprise and whimsy. If these turn out all right, they will be a source of great humor and merriment. If they don’t work out… well, they’ll still cause humor and merriment, I imagine, but not for the same reasons.

Mystery project
What happens when you take three arts-and-crafts tiles and put them together with a salvaged window shutter? Ahhhh… wait and see, my friends. Wait and see...

So there we have it.
Any one of these projects is in the queue this year, for good or bad. We’ll see what happens to them together, I think.

In the meantime, take care, fellow crafters, thrifters and collectors-- and I’ll see you next Monday when...

...You know those framed hand-painted cameo portraits on ivory that go for big bucks in antique stores and auctions? Um, yeah, we won’t be talking about those. We can’t afford that... exactly...

Stay tuned.

The Route 30 Antiquing Trail

Take Route 30 Eastbound through Forest Hills right outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and you embark on a thrifting and antiquing odyssey. This single road winds its way from the bustle of Pittsburgh, and rambles for miles through the pretty, rural landscape of Ligonier, Latrobe, and beyond. It’s along this route that an adventurous shopper can discover bargains and beloved treasures.

Thrift stores? During your time on the road you’ll encounter the Good Samaritan Thrift Store, the Price is Right Thrift Store, two Goodwills, and several Salvation Armys.

Maybe flea markets are more your style? How about the indoor Super Flea, the L&L Fleatique (pictured at left)? Or, if outdoor flea-ing is a particular favorite, far down the route in Latrobe, the Hi-Way Drive-in Flea Market is open seasonally on weekends.

But well-before you hit Latrobe, take a minor detour off 30, into downtown Jeannette, a city once renowned for its manufacture of beautiful glass items. Here you’ll encounter everything from the higher-end antiques of the Jeannette Antique Mall and Antique Oddities (pictured below), to the unique mix of antiques and fun fixer-uppers in Junk for Joy...

You’ll even find thrifting at the large St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store right on Clay Street.
Weary from all that shopping? Take a break at one of Jeannette’s restaurants with your choice of sandwiches, Chinese, pizza, and in evenings, The Nest for seafood... (For lunch, Rick’s Hometown Diner is a favorite haunt of mine when the hungries hit, with homemade soups, pies and other diner favorites.)

Head back up the road from Jeannette to join Route 30 again, and consider a minor stop in Greensburg. Who knows what you might find at the U. F. O., an indoor antique/thrift store/used furniture mecca? Then, back to good ol’ 30 and head off to Ligonier. Right near Idlewild Amusement Park, you’ll find the Flea Tique, another indoor flea market/antique mall (not to be confused with the L&L Fleatique of earlier in the journey!). Here you’ll find a mixture of antiques and collectibles, all jumbled together in several large rooms of booths.

Leave the Flea Tique parking lot, get back onto 30 East for just about 500 yards, then u-turn onto Route 30 Westbound, and there you’ll find Graham’s Antique Mall, with even more booths filled with antiques and collectibles.

It’s usually at this point, that I’m bleary from scanning and weary from walking the aisles. And, spoils of the day packed in the trunk, I make Graham’s Antique Mall my final destination before I head on home. But if you still have energy, I understand the Route 30 antiquing adventure continues eastward even beyond Ligonier along to Gettysburg. Perhaps you’ll discover some antiquing and thrifting locations along it that you’d like to share. (I’d love to hear about them!)

But just to get you started, below are the places I pick and choose from on my own well-traveled path (and if you like, you can also read a summary of each place in the Resources section):

Good Samaritan Thrift Store
500 Lincoln Hwy North Versailles, PA, (412) 829-1898

“Super Flea” Flea Market
833 E Pittsburgh Mckeesport Blvd, North Versailles, PA

Price is Right Thrift Store
1930 Lincoln Highway, North Versailles, PA

Salvation Army Thrift Store
12751 Route 30, North Huntingdon, PA, (724) 863-6116

8755 Norwin Ave, North Huntingdon, PA (724) 864-2980

L&L Fleatique I and II
Adamsburg Edna Rd., Jeannette, PA (724) 523-0595—visible from Route 30

Antique Oddities
316 Clay Ave, Jeannette, PA (724) 523-7767

Jeannette Antique Mall
500 Clay Ave, Jeannette, PA (724) 527-1555

Junk for Joy
209 Clay Ave, Jeannette, PA (724) 523-6221

St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store
631 Clay Ave, Jeannette, PA (724) 527-5776

Jen & Ed’s U.F.O. (Used Furniture Outlet)
320 S Pennsylvania Ave, Greensburg, PA (724) 834-9070

Salvation Army
3780 Route 30 Latrobe, PA (724) 539-2080

Flea Tique
230 Route 30 W, Ligonier PA 15658-8777, 724-238-9198

Graham's Antique Mall
Route 30 W, Ligonier PA 15658, 724-238-8611

Think Zinc: Decorating with Spelter

Zinc. We use it to relieve colds. We include it in our multi-vitamins. And some of us even decorate our homes with it.

And now, I’m going to show you how to make a mosaic out of zinc tablets...

Kidding, kidding. Zinc tablets dissolve too easily for effective mosaic-ing.

So instead I guess we’ll have to talk about spelter. Spelter is the metal zinc, which is sometimes mixed with lead. And while spelter may not carry the innate value of gold, silver and bronze, the Victorians did use it to create beautiful statuary, tableware and personal care items. This allowed the growing middle classes to own status items similar to those of their wealthy counterparts, but at less expense.

And spelter is versatile; it can be coated in a patina to make it look like higher-end bronze or silver. For the Victorians, who loved to entertain, appearance was everything.

I suspect the little cherub above is a spelter piece coated to look like bronze. Why do I say that? Well, by scraping gently on an obscure area of the statue, say here under the base at the left, the mark appears more white in color than bronze. (So this is a good reason to make sure you know what you’re buying when someone tries to sell you a bronze piece!)

Here at right you’ll see spelter in its more natural state. Items like this bowl may have been silver-plated at one time, but while they now lack the brilliance of their silver sisters.

Yet notice the delicate art nouveau designs. You can tell the art nouveau style by the sinewy vines and mystical maidens that peer from the metal. They pretty much don’t make ‘em like that anymore! So spelter is an affordable piece of history.

And occasionally, it’s very affordable. Would you believe the hand mirror below came from a thrift store for under $6? I’ve found two that way. Spelter is quite a soft metal, so general use means spelter pieces may have dents, holes or dings. But considering the examples here are approximately 100 years old, this looking-glass lady is still a fair beauty.

My most recent spelter find was the two art nouveau busts in the photo at the top of the page. I stumbled on them two days before Christmas in a back booth of a flea market. The dealer, whose flea market specialty was in selling all-you-could-fit-in-a-box-for-$3, was genuinely certain they were bronze. The telltale white metal shining through the patina told a different story.

But quick negotiation and the nouveau ladies had found a happy new home. (And no, they weren’t $3-- let’s not get too over-confident. :-) ) Today they peer from my bookcase with all the dignity of their bronze sisters.

Postcard Perfect New Year

The tradition of sending postcards began in the Victorian era-- and it wasn’t just a way of saying “Wish You Were Here” while sunning yourself on some sandy beach. No, in fact, they functioned pretty much like a cross between today’s greeting cards and text messaging.

There were no telephones, so rather than spend time trying to get across town-- or across the country-- to visit someone and share day-to-day information, postcards served as a quick way of sending news. Especially since in many places the mail came multiple times a day

But postcards also functioned as the formal way of sending well wishes for particular holidays. Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, Thanksgiving and, yes, New Year’s were all occasions which merited a postcard. Postcards were also used to send a potential sweetheart encouragement, such as official permission to visit. Or to enquire if a particular person was the one he or she had met at some social gathering. Postcards were the polite and accepted way of saying much of what the Victorians wanted to share.

Initially, Victorian postcards were paper cards rimmed in fabric fringe. But over time, the fringe was left off in favor of the more streamlined postcards we know today.

The wonderful thing about postcards from the Victorian and Edwardian eras are the elaborate designs, the gold or silver leafing and the insights they provide into the thinking of the time. Plus, scanned images of these cards can be used for a variety of decoupage crafting projects-- or even for simply sending your own quaint greetings.

In terms of collecting, postcards can be quite reasonable in cost-- anywhere from $0.50 to $5.00 depending on rarity and condition. And because they take up such little space, they’re easy to store in an archival quality album.

Largely, they’re available at flea markets and antique shops, but I recently found two at a thrift store, so it never hurts to keep your eyes peeled.

Sending all of you well wishes for a postcard perfect New Year of your own,